UM Serving Children of Incarcerated Parents Sets Goals, Agenda

New campus organization seeks to provide voice, support for families of the imprisoned

Deetra Wiley (left), adviser for Serving Children of Incarcerated Parents, and Asya Branch, the group’s president, share their stories during the kickoff meeting in the Guyton Hall Annex. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – A new University of Mississippi student organization is aiming high in its efforts to help the families of imprisoned men and women.

Serving Children of Incarcerated Parents officially launched April 17 with dozens of people from campus and the local community in attendance. During the hourlong meeting in the Guyton Hall Annex, SCIP leaders presented the group’s goals and agenda.

“My objective in forming this group is to help support children from families like mine,” said Asya Branch, a junior integrated marketing communications major from Booneville and SCIP president. Branch shared her own story of growing up while her father served a prison sentence.

“It was a really tough situation to deal with,” she said. “I experienced instability, low self-esteem and emotional distress. It’s important to let others like myself know that they can overcome all these things. I want to give them hope and encouragement.”

SCIP membership is limited to Ole Miss students, faculty or staff with an interest in helping children and youth develop their full potential and agree to volunteer in one or more of the organization’s activities. Members aim to achieve these goals through education, career programs, character leadership, health, life skills and the arts.

“The response to SCIP so far has been overwhelming,” said Deetra Wiley, applications analyst/business communications specialist in the UM Office of Information Technology and SCIP adviser. “Other student organizations, the McLean Institute, the Counseling Center and people from the surrounding area have all voiced their interest and promised to help.

“I’d love to see this become a movement that spreads around the globe.”

Branch became interested in starting the new group after she met several others on campus who either had similar experiences or knew families who did.

“Service is one of my passions,” said Branch, voted 2018 Most Beautiful at the university. “Having the opportunity to serve those who have been through the same or similar circumstances as myself allows me to truly connect and make a difference.”

Attendees at the SCIP kickoff responded enthusiastically to the group’s agenda.

“This issue impacts thousands of families, regardless of race, education or economic status,” said Lee Dean, manager of technology and interactive services for UM’s division of outreach and continuing education. “The entire community needs to embrace this effort and work together to help alleviate the stigmas and to break the generational cycle of incarceration.”

Randall Rhodes, adjunct professor of legal studies, delivered the keynote address via Adobe Connect, sharing information about his work in Missouri with disadvantaged youth and children of imprisoned parents.

“According to information found at the Rutgers University Resources Center, one in 28 children in Missouri is impacted by incarcerated parents,” Rhodes said. “In Mississippi, there are more than 55,000 children of incarcerated parents. Of that figure, one in nine African-American children is impacted.

“Clearly, there is much work to be done in both these states alone.”

As awareness continues to increase, more SCIP meetings will be scheduled to identify Ole Miss students who need support and encouragement, as well as children in the community. Other SCIP officers include vice president A’mya Jones, a sophomore theater arts major from Crystal Springs, and treasurer Vinesh Patel, a sophomore exercise science major from Booneville.

“We plan to start with going into the local schools and meeting with these children,” Wiley said. “From there, we can determine what their needs are and meet them, whatever they might be.”

As a contestant for Miss Mississippi (a preliminary to the Miss America competition), Branch said she continues to visit schools, civic groups and churches sharing her story.

“I’ve even gone to a women’s correctional facility and spoken to them about how they can’t stop parenting just because they’re behind bars,” Branch said. “With help from others, we provide these women with paper, pencils, envelopes and stamps so that they can write to their children regularly.”

For more information about Serving Children of Incarcerated Parents, contact, Aysa Branch at or Deetra Wiley at